Game makers to explore social issues at conference

SAN FRANCISCO — The video game industry is taking itself more seriously.

Besides the usual talk of polygons, virtual worlds and artificial intelligence at this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, there will also be planned discussions led by game makers about such socially conscious topics as designing for gamers with disabilities, battling depression at game studios and tackling hate speech in online game communities.

The organizers of GDC, which kicks off Monday at the Moscone Center and continues through Friday, have expanded the conference’s advocacy-themed sessions with panels featuring such titles as “Beyond Graphics: Reaching the Visually Impaired Gamer,” “How to Subversively Queer Your Work” and “Women Don’t Want to Work in Games (and Other Myths).”

“It’s something that in some way or another has always been part of the conference, but it’s something that we’ve found interest in genuinely continue to grow as the industry has become more diverse and inclusive,” said Simon Carless, executive vice president of UBM Tech Game Network, which organizes GDC and several other technology conventions.

This year’s conference is expected to attract about 23,000 game developers and executives from across the globe. Carless and other GDC organizers, which includes an advocacy advisory committee made up of game designers, hope that examinations of racism, misogyny and homophobia in games aid the industry’s continued fight for wider cultural legitimacy.

Rosalind Wiseman, author of the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” which inspired the Lindsay Lohan film “Mean Girls,” will be part of a Tuesday discussion about gaming and social hierarchies among boys. The panel will examine how the games that young men choose to play effect their popularity, as well as their social competence in moments of conflict.

Other speakers will include Adam Orth, who left Microsoft Corp. last year after fiery Twitter exchanges about “always-on” technology; Manveer Heir, a game maker who works on the “Mass Effect” sci-fi series, which features gay and lesbian characters; and Toshifumi Nakabayashi , who organizes an annual game workshop to support Fukushima disaster victims.

Despite the refreshed focus on real-world issues at the convention, how to view and interact with ever-changing virtual worlds will ultimately take center stage at GDC. PlayStation 4 creator Sony Corp. is expected to tease its rendition of virtual reality technology during a Tuesday presentation called “Driving the Future of Innovation at Sony Computer Entertainment.”

Meanwhile, a handful of developers will be showing off software using the VR goggles Oculus Rift, which captured attendees’ attention at last year’s conference. The exhibit “ALT.CTRL.GDC” will highlight 14 games that utilize such alternative control schemes, like a piano-powered version of the sidescroller “Canabalt” and a holographic display called Voxiebox.

This year’s conference, the largest annual gathering of game creators outside the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June, is the first since Sony and Microsoft respectively released its PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles last year. Several sessions scheduled this year are dedicated to creating games for those systems, as well as more popular mobile platforms.

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